Secrets of Ice Fishing in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
Warm winters have curtailed many cold-weather pursuits in southern Michigan communities in recent years but in Sault Ste. Marie, we don’t have that problem. While the occasional warmer-than-normal winter causes ice to form a little later on area waterways, or sometimes delays snow cover, you can always count on being able to enjoy a weekend of ice fishing here where we know how to make the most of the winter months.
Record-breaking Great Lakes water levels of recent years have helped fishing throughout the state in more ways than one. Flooded and recharged wetlands provide spawning habitat for popular species such as Northern pike and perch, and the historically excellent pike fishing in the Eastern Upper Peninsula has been improving steadily, again.
In addition, deeper water means ice anglers who don’t have snowmobiles or four-wheelers, or who prefer to walk out to their fishing spots, don’t have as far to hike. Good fishing may be closer to shore than you might think. Heavy snow cover and abundant rain in recent years have also kept area inland lakes high.
In spite of our reliable ice-making weather, it’s essential to pay attention to ice conditions and remember that no amount of ice cover is considered entirely safe. Pay attention to what other anglers are doing, and get advice from local bait dealers and resort owners, as well as the Department of Natural Resources field offices. Fish with a partner, if you can, and bring along “ice picks,” a device you can use to pull yourself to safety should you fall through the ice.
Eastern Upper Peninsula anglers look forward to ice fishing just as much as they anticipate putting their boats in the water when the ice melts away. The Soo area offers a variety of fishing opportunities within an hour’s drive from town, and even if the fish don’t cooperate, you can’t beat the scenery and the solitude.
Sault Ste. Marie has played host to a variety of walleye tournaments right in town during the summer on the St. Marys River, but most ice anglers head south to Munuscong, Raber or Potagannissing Bays, or west to Brimley’s Back Bay, as well as inland lakes including the Manistique Lakes near Curtis or Mackinac County’s Brevort Lake.
Ice angling for walleye is as simple as it can get. With a bucket of minnows, a few jigs and spoons, and a couple of rods and reels with well-functioning drags and ice auger, you’ll be all set. Ice shacks or shanties are wonderful to have when the weather is freezing, but if conditions permit, don’t be afraid to drill a dozen holes or more, hopping around from spot to spot to find where the active fish are feeding.
Munuscong Bay has been a favorite for ice fishermen for many years. Most anglers access the bay from the west side or through the state property at Conley Point. Look for the groups of anglers spread out through the bay, and you’ll get an idea for where the current action is happening. Most of the bay is shallow – 3-5 feet – but many fishermen find big walleye farther out in 8-15 ft. depths and much deeper. Remember to use caution around points and the shipping channel.
Where you find walleye, you’ll likely find perch, too. Munuscong is a favorite among perch fishermen, as is Raber Bay, Potagannissing, and Lake George off Sugar Island. Many inland lakes provide good perch fishing, too.
Again, the rigs are simple, and what works for walleye often works for perch, too. Most fishermen use smaller spoons or teardrops either tipped with a live minnow or just a minnow head. As with walleye, it helps to move around if possible, especially in shallow water.
The same places that provide good perch and walleye fishing also hold their share of Northern pike, and often times someone pulls a monster muskellunge through the ice at Munuscong Bay. (Fishermen do very well for muskies before the ice freezes the bay.)
Pike fishermen often use tip-ups baited with live minnows or chubs or a combination of tip-ups and ice rods, but a dedicated group of anglers enjoys using spears for pike and muskies. No matter your preferred method, the St. Marys River is well-known for its northern pike fishing from Sault Ste. Marie to Drummond Island.
Accessible during the summer months, whitefish are often ignored by ice fishermen, even though the St. Marys River and Whitefish Bay offer some of the few places where anglers may find these fish that are more common to northern waters.
Fishermen can catch a few jumbo whitefish in the deeper waters adjacent to Munuscong Bay, but most anglers try west of town in Izaak Walton or Mosquito Bay. You can also try Tahquamenon Bay near Emerson, or off the mouths of any number of the small creeks that empty into Whitefish Bay along its southern shore, including Pendills and Halfaday creeks, when conditions permit. Those same creek mouths are good spots to find Lake herring and young coho salmon “jacks,” which are a lot of fun to catch and delicious on the grill.
Remember to use a 4-6 lb. test line for the light-biting whitefish, with teardrops and waxworms. If you are in shallow water, you may want to bring along a spear, too, as it is legal to spear whitefish. If you’re fishing deeper, a “fish finder” can help you stay on top of suspended fish.
It is vital to keep an eye on ice conditions and the wind in the area. Deeper water freezes later than the shallows, and sometimes during mild winters, some of the spots along Lake Superior and St. Marys River are not accessible.